Advice for Guest Preachers

 |  May 21, 2021

In preaching classes at SWBTS, I aim to connect class content to the concrete reality of a student’s preaching experience in the local church. In the process of doing this, I frequently say something like, “One day, when you are preaching at FBC Bugtussle…” While having been informed that Bugtussle is actually a place in both Texas and Tennessee, my use of the word serves as a way of challenging students to think in advance about any and all preaching opportunities. Therefore, let’s assume that you have been asked to be the guest preacher at FBC Bugtussle on a Sunday in the not too distant future. While by no means exhaustive, let me offer some advice for you and all guest preachers.

  1. Prepare diligently and prayerfully

Whatever your level of preaching experience, the guest preacher assignment is not an occasion for you to “wing it” or “mail it in” in terms of preparation. You need to prepare diligently, remembering that your goal is not to dazzle folks with your deep knowledge of difficult texts or dynamic delivery. Additionally, as God’s ambassador, your goal is not to engage in an exposition of your experiences. It is to expose and expound a biblical text which will feed the flock. Biblical and, specifically, text-driven preaching demands careful study. As the guest preacher, I recommend that you avoid obscure texts. In my last pastorate, while I was away on vacation, a certain guest preacher expounded for some forty-five minutes on the ashes of the red heifer. Years later, I am still being “given the business” about that one. Of course, all of Scripture is inspired and inerrant. I’m simply recommending that you preach a more familiar text in the quest for fundamental simplicity. Whatever your text, be sure to bathe your study of it in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate and clarify its every syllable.

  1. Preach a shorter sermon

There, I said it. And, I might add, it does not matter at all if the pastor of your host church regularly preaches forty-five minutes to an hour. You are the guest preacher. You are preaching to people that, for the most part, you do not know and who do not know you. In fact, you likely will never see most of them again in this life. Therefore, aim for an economy of words. Use “plain speech,” get to your text quickly and then “land the plane” in a timely fashion.

  1. Prioritize punctuality

As the guest preacher, you need to show up at FBC Bugtussle on time. That means being ten to fifteen minutes early. Think of your early arrival as a gracious gesture to the leadership in your host church. It alleviates the stress of their “sweating out” whether the guest preacher will show up on time for the Sunday service. Arriving early also has benefits for you. It gives you the opportunity to survey the physical setting for your sermon and to spend some time meeting and greeting people. By the way, if you have an obsession with the “green room” experience, get over it. Mingle with the people a few minutes before doing a quick review of your message and praying with the leadership of the host church.

  1. Dress appropriately

Don’t let what you wear or don’t wear become a distraction. I find it helpful to find out what the host church pastor wears on Sundays (tie or no tie, coat or no coat, jeans or slacks…). Then, I aim to dress accordingly. This minimizes any potential for distraction because the guest preacher is dressed in a manner to which the congregation is accustomed.

  1. Exercise intentionality

Being the guest preacher is no meager assignment. You are at FBC Bugtussle by God’s providential appointment and you need to have your homiletical gun loaded for action. Therefore, be intentional, down to the details, about the assignment. Here are a few suggestions: Ideally, your goal is to preach a text-driven, audience sensitive sermon. While a text-driven sermon is the most audience sensitive philosophy of preaching, this does not mean that you neglect to consider the composition/character of the audience to whom you will be preaching (larger/smaller church, rural/urban, younger/older). If you have never been to your FBC Bugtussle, access the church’s website and briefly familiarize yourself with its statement of faith, staff, and programs. Often, you can view videos of previous worship services. Next, if possible, have a brief phone conversation or have email correspondence with the host church pastor. It is helpful to know what the pastor has preached in the weeks prior to your preaching date. If he is preaching a series through a particular book of the Bible, it obviously would be wise for you to select your text from another book. Lastly, let me mention two very practical and important items: First, be sure you have the host’s church’s correct contact information, whether it is the church office phone number or that of your contact person for the day. About five years ago, I was driving to a church about an hour from my home to serve as a guest preacher. I factored in an extra thirty minutes to ensure my early arrival. However, along the way, I came upon a wreck that left me in a traffic jam for almost thirty minutes. Thankfully, I had my host church’s contact information and was able to call to say I was on my way but might be a few minutes late. Second, shortly after you preach at your FBC Bugtussle, write a personal, handwritten note to the pastor of your host church, thanking him for the invitation and opportunity to share God’s word with the people. Doing so may prompt you to pray for FBC Bugtussle and its pastor and it certainly can be a source of encouragement to him.

Above all, guest preacher,”… keruxon ton logon…”  Preach the Word!


Matthew McKellar is Professor of Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Category: Blog Post

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